Azeem Rafiq has described himself as “incredibly hurt” after Joe Root said he has not been witness to any instances of racism during his 14 years at Yorkshire.
On Thursday England’s Test captain broke his silence on the continuing scandal hours before Mark Arthur confirmed his resignation as chief executive. Issuing a statement from his team’s pre-Ashes quarantine camp in Queensland, Root described racism as “intolerable” and called for change in the sport. However, in a follow-up press conference – one in which questions on specific allegations were barred – Root was asked three times whether he could remember any of the abuse that Rafiq has alleged was widespread during his two spells in the Yorkshire dressing room from 2008 to 2018. “Not that I can recall, no I can’t,” he replied.
Root did add that “it is clear things happened” which need eradicating and he has pledged to help Lord Patel, the new Yorkshire chair, who has hailed Rafiq as a whistleblower and is now tackling the gravest crisis in the club’s 158-year history.
But Rafiq is understood to still feel badly let down by Root failing to acknowledge he was witness to any wrongdoing personally and, an hour after his former teammate had spoken, tweeted: “Disappointed is not even the feeling. Incredibly Hurt. But uncomfortable truths are hard to accept it seems.”
This was followed by news that Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, has become the latest person to leave Headingley in the wake of the scandal. Patel said the departure was “an important moment for the club” and added that new leadership “will be vital in driving the change we urgently need”.
Arthur, who was at the helm when Rafiq’s original allegations of racism were not properly escalated when he left the club in 2018, thanked supporters and listed the six-year south Asian engagement programme and the redevelopment of the Bradford Park Avenue ground as being among the highlights of his eight-year spell in charge.
The day was dominated by Root and Rafiq, however, two players who rose through the academy ranks together and made first-class debuts in 2009 before their careers went in different directions. They were also close friends with Gary Ballance, the former England batsman who last week admitted to using racist language towards Rafiq in the past as part of what he described as their “two-way” friendly verbals.
As a centrally contracted England player, Root’s time at Headingley has been limited since his debut in 2012. The 30-year-old has also driven the Test team’s public messaging on anti-discrimination and earned praise in 2019 after challenging an alleged homophobic slur by West Indies’ Shannon Gabiel on the field of play.
Rafiq has previously described Root as an “outstanding guy” in interviews – similar praise has gone to Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire head coach from 2012 to 2016 – but has been left flummoxed by his old teammate replying “no” when asked whether he recognised the dressing room environment that has been portrayed of late.
As such, Root now risks being publicly challenged on this point by Rafiq when the former off-spinner speaks under parliamentary privilege at what is expected to be an explosive session in front of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee next Tuesday.
Asked if the events of the past 18 months have made him question his future at Yorkshire, Root replied: “If you’re not at the club, how can you make any change? How can you help move things forward? As I said, I look forward to speaking to Lord Patel at some point in the future about how I can help move things forward.”
On the subject of whether players found to have used racist language should be banished from the sport, Root replied: “I do think people deserve a second chance. And if they are willing to accept that they’ve made a mistake and they want to make change and want to move forward then I think that’s really important as well.”
In his earlier statement, Root said: “These events have fractured our game and torn lives apart. We must now recover and come back together as fans, players, media, and those who work within cricket. We have an opportunity to make the sport I love better for everyone.
“I want to see change and actions that will see YCCC rise from this with a culture that harnesses a diverse environment with trust across all communities that support cricket in the county. We need to educate, unify and reset.”
Much of the fallout is a direct result of Yorkshire’s handling of the crisis, first by failing to escalate Rafiq’s allegations when he raised them, in-house, in 2018 and then the 12-month investigation that Patel described as “flawed” upon announcing that the club had settled the employment tribunal case with their former off-spinner.
Indeed Rafiq himself tweeted on Thursday that he tried hard to prevent the current “car crash” at Yorkshire, something that has already led to Andrew Gale being suspended as head coach pending an investigation into an antisemitic tweet posted 11 years ago and Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, signed off with stress.
Rafiq insists this is the result of the club being unwilling to listen to him and clearly there are those at Headingley who still vehemently reject his allegations. This was outlined in a letter from 14 staff members to the club’s board in October that spoke of a “one-man mission to bring down the club”.
Sent three weeks after Yorkshire published a summary of the report into Rafiq’s allegations – one that concluded he was the victim of racial harassment – the signatories accused the club of failing to offer a strong rebuttal of his claims.
The letter, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, said: “Staff who knew Azeem well felt that an initial apology to him and an acceptance that he was a victim was not the correct approach and misrepresented entirely what kind of individual he was whilst at the club.
“There are endless episodes of Azeem’s behaviour, well-known to the club, which reflect on him as a person well before he decided to accuse the club, staff and players of any wrongdoing. We find it difficult to comprehend how this part of Azeem’s character has not been released or at least used by the club in its defence.”
Responding to to publication of this letter, Patel said: “It is troubling for many reasons, and further evidence of the wider issues the club has faced.”
The Yorkshire board’s previous response to this – and the crisis as a whole – will need to be explained by Hutton when he speaks to the select committee next week, with the former chair having bemoaned “a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge” upon resigning from his position last Friday.